Margot Lee Shetterly, Sharon Torres, Dr. Meenakshi Wadhwa and Dr. Stanlie James at a panel in the Lyceum Theater

'Hidden Figures' author inspires audiences at ASU events


Jake Friedman

On Tuesday, April 4, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing presented Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race" at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix.

After a brief talk discussing some of the research and writing processes behind "Hidden Figures," Shetterly spent the next hour taking questions from the audience, many of whom expressed deep, personal connections to Shetterly’s work.

“Whenever a new person took the microphone, it was often to thank Shetterly for the inspiration and the call to action contained with the book, and also to call for more work unearthing other hidden stories, other hidden figures in American history and in contemporary life today,” said Matt Bell, interim director for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Shetterly’s visit also included a panel exploring race, representation, and access to education with director of the Center for Meteorite Studies Meenakshi Wadhwa and Vice Provost for Inclusion and Community Engagement Stanlie James, moderated by Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology advocacy manager Sharon Torres.

“Margot’s book was one of my favorite reads from this past year, not only because it highlighted a very interesting period in the history of NASA and of this country, but because of its incredibly powerful and inspirational message,” Wadhwa said. “To me, the importance and relevance of this work in today’s world is encapsulated by something that Margot said, that we must all be motivated not by fear but by curiosity and imagination.”

"Hidden Figures" follows the story of four African-American women who worked at NASA as mathematicians during the Civil Rights era. Despite their crucial role in many of NASA’s greatest achievements, segregation repressed their contributions from public memory. "Hidden Figures" is a corrective to this history.

A No. 1 New York Times Bestseller, the book was also recently selected by Henry Louis Gates Jr. to receive this year’s Anisfield-Wolf award, an annual award recognizing those books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity

"Hidden Figures" was also made into a feature film starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kirstin Dunst and Kevin Costner earlier this year, and received numerous nominations and awards across the film industry.

Recently, Viking Books announced that Shetterly will be publishing two new volumes over the next several years, each of which will explore overlooked contributions of African Americans to American history.